Today we’re considering the book The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich, and Some So Poor, by David Landes. It was published by David Landes in 1998, and it has occupied a preeminent place on the bookshelves of scholars ever since. Landes boldly argued that historically unique cultural values of curiosity, novelty, and private property empowered European society to lead the modern world; a history that offers invaluable lessons for our own time.
The question that motivates Landes’ book is simple: “how did the rich countries get so rich?” This is not just a historical curiosity – its answer has major implications today. Just consider the migrant crisis currently unfolding across Europe. As Landes’ foresaw 20 years ago, it is in our own, self-interest in rich countries to understand how poor societies can become healthier and wealthier, quote: “If we do not, they will seek to take what they cannot make; and if they cannot earn by exporting commodities, they will export people.” End quote. That resonates even more today than it did 20 years ago when this book came out.